With the world being in the state that it’s in, I really needed a laugh…and maybe a cry. Judd Apatow has shown that he’s able to deliver both in his projects, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much. He’s also shown the unintentional ability to induce a yawn with his overly long run-times. Yet, he’s usually able to find talent that is inherently fascinating or hilarious to watch – this being the man who launched or helped the careers of Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell, James Franco, Jason Segal, Amy Shumer, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and more. It’s safe to say the man has some cachet when it comes to finding the right…ahem… funny people to put in front of his camera.
So, when it was announced that he decided to make a film about up-and-comer Pete Davidson’s life, I decided to pay more attention to the young comedian. In that time, he made a splash on SNL, in the tabloids, and a couple promising indie films (please check out Big Time Adolescence). Throughout all of that time I couldn’t decide if Pete was extremely likable or unlikable – either way, I found him compelling enough to want to see more, especially through Judd’s often funny and heartfelt lens. That is also an apt description of the film, The King of Staten Island, a dramedy (not comedy) that features all of the strengths and weaknesses of both aforementioned artists.
The film is a semi-autobiographical piece that follows a twenty-four-year-old Scott (Pete Davidson) as he floats through a life of drugged-out suspended adolescence since the death of his firefighter father. Will he grow up or spin out even further? Only the great Judd Apatow knows!
Look, The King of Staten Island is in no way a bad movie – it’s just not as tight as it should be, which leaves you with mixed feelings. My biggest issue with the film is one that Judd gets quite often – this is way too long for a comedy. The film runs at two hours and seventeen minutes, and you feel it by the end. The man needs an editor that can keep his films under two hours. Fun Fact: none of his directorial efforts have been under two hours.
The film also spends too much time making Scott unlikable. I found myself questioning if I even wanted to root for this guy at multiple points, even late in the runtime – I know that was intentional to give the character and mental illness a more rounded, realistic view, but there are better ways to show the struggle than to make your lead completely annoying 75% of the time. Some of that may land on Judd, but some certainly lands on Pete, who gives a mixed performance as someone who is more or less him. Again, some tighter editing could have made all of the difference on the tone and the way the film deals with mental illness, but Apatow seems to never know when to kill his darlings, so to speak.
And yet, even with those two big strikes against it, the film also has a lot of laughs throughout and moments of genuine heart that really do work, thanks to Pete and talents like Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, and, surprisingly, Judd’s own flesh and blood, Maude Apatow.
Judd even shows that he’s grown as a director. Opting to shoot the film mostly handheld and keeping the color palette reflective of the character journey. Thus, resulting in some extremely intimate, fly-on-the wall moments throughout.
Ultimately, if you find Pete’s personality grating, you’re not going to find much to win you over here. If you are at least mildly charmed by the loveable shmuck, you might find The King of Staten Island worth your time. If you’re wondering where it sits on the Judd scale of comedy (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Trainwreck) to drama (Funny People, This is 40), I’d say it lands squarely in the middle, leaning a bit more towards drama than comedy, which, in this writer’s view, is a bit of a missed opportunity, seeing how funny Pete can be in the right moments. Come for Pete, but expect a drama with laughs that explores an imperfect, troublesome character, much like its director, growing out of his suspended adolescence. It’s a needed journey for both, and I look forward to seeing what Judd and Pete do moving forward from this point.
The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow and starring Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, and Maude Apatow, is distributed by Universal Pictures and will be released on VOD platforms everywhere on Friday, June 12th.
OVERALL RATING – 3/5 Stars